Friday, 29 May 2009

Childhood Favourites #4

Mary of Mile 18

Story and Pictures by Ann Blades

1971 First Hardcover Printing,
Montreal: Tundra Books

It seems I've always known the story of Mary Fehr, a young girl living in northern British Columbia. Indeed this book was a favourite of all my elementary school teachers and came home with me many times from the school library. It's true that we saw harsh yet, beautiful winters here in Nova Scotia but Mary lived through the winter with much less comfort and way more responsibility than either I or most other children I knew at the time.

Though this book touches on the hardships of enduring a cold Canadian winter without such comforts as running water, electricity and indoor plumbing, it does so in such a quiet and understated way. The beauty of growing up with a strong sense of hardworking values in a large and loving family, shines through in this book.

I can't imagine any child not feeling the pull of wanting a puppy when Mary finds a stray half wolf-pup and wants to keep him. Her father though, is quick to remind her that animals must earn their keep on a farm and wolf-pups are useless.

Sadly Mary goes off with the pup while the others go about their jobs ... The pup snuggles in Mary's arms as she carries him into the woods. How she wishes she could keep him!

Still tugs at my heart!

Ann Blades gentle watercolours perfectly capture the cold and lonesome beauty of a northern Canadian winter. The bare limbs of trees, the soft and ever present snow, the wonder and magic of Northern Lights and one stealthy and snarling coyote, illustrate and contribute to the enduring charm of Mary of Mile 18.

A Canadian classic to be enjoyed by all ages, everywhere!

** Ann Blades was just twenty years old and working as a teacher at a tiny country schoolhouse in the northern village of Mile 18 when she created what would become a childrens book sensation. Unable to find books for her students that represented their lives, she decided to write and illustrate her own stories. Mary of Mile 18 was her first book and included the students she taught that year. The Vancouver Art Gallery exhibited the tender naive paintings, and the Canadian Association of Children's Librarians in 1972 chose it the BOOK OF THE YEAR in the largest and most enthusiastic vote ever given a book. Translated into many languages including Swedish, Danish and German, Mary of Mile 18 celebrated it's 30th printing in 2001.

A Boy of Tache and A Salmon for Simon are among Ann Blade's other award winning books. **

Friday, 22 May 2009

The Rescuers ~ Margery Sharp

Childhood Favourites # 3:

The Rescuers ~ Margery Sharp

with drawings by Judith Brook

London: Collins, 1959

158 pages

I was ten years old when Disney's The Rescuers came to the big screen. It was quite a treat for my sisters and I to go to the movie theatre and see it. Soon thereafter, I was delighted to learn that the movie was actually based on books. The Rescuers, Miss Bianca a fantasy & Miss Bianca in the Salt Mines soon made their way into my heart and home!

In this first book, three mice set out to rescue an imprisoned poet from the Black Castle. The story of how Bernard, Miss Bianca and Nils come together as part of the Prisoner's Aid Society and then set out on their long and perilous journey is quite an adventure. When finally they reach the Black Castle, more obstacles stand in their way including Mamelouk, the Head Jailer's cat. Months of waiting and careful planning go by before the three brave mice can even attempt their rescue, their timing must be perfect.

It was wonderful to re-discover these books again and share them with my 8 y.o. daughter. She didn't ask why this first book wasn't anything like the movie she knows so well; I had to laugh though, when she asked why the mice "talk funny". As most readers well know and as I explained to my daughter, Miss Bianca is of a certain social class, a rather high society mouse. Being unaccustomed to older, "proper" English prose, the narration felt a little off to her young ears but she soon adjusted and picked up some new vocabulary along the way.

Something else she found terribly funny comes from the part of the story where Miss Bianca is in search of a brave Norwegian mouse,

"In the Embassy cellar there was evidently some kind of bachelor-party going on. At least fifty Norwegian mice were gathered there—singing and shouting and drinking beer."

That's right, beer drinking mice and they are swigging it back in the illustration on the opposite page which includes a floor littered with empties and spilled tankards! It's actually quite cute but not something I would expect to find in more recent editions of this classic tale. Thankfully, our library has all nine of the original titles for my daughter and I to enjoy reading together!

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Review: Dear Mr. Henshaw

Beverly Cleary was definitely my favorite author growing up. I read all the Ramona Quimby books multiple times, but I think the prize for the most rereads of one books is this one...Dear Mr. Henshaw.

This was the first time I had reread it as an adult. What a difference of perspective! Leigh Botts' favorite author is Boyd Henshaw. He writes to him for the first time in 2nd grade, and a couple years later sends him a list of questions to answer as part of a school report. Mr. Henshaw answers his questions and sends a list back for Leigh to answer. So begins a mentorship and friendship in writing. Along the way, Leigh deals with feelings surrounding his parents' divorce and being the new kid at school, all while developing the skills he needs to become an author someday.

I was struck by the talent it takes for an adult to write authentically from a kid's perspective. We see the world through Leigh's eyes - even how he interprets Mr. Henshaw's advice. And, we see Leigh develop over the years he writes to Mr. Henshaw. His thinking becomes less concrete, and he is able to view a situation from multiple perspectives. He also develops self-awareness. I think it takes a skilled author to convey so many things in language plain enough that it can be understood by young readers.

When I opened the book last night, I could have told you that the book was in letter format between a kid and an author. I had forgotten almost all of the details, but as soon as I read them again they came back. I could hear some of them being read by my second grade teacher, while others were familiar because I'd read them so many times before. It was a fun trip down memory lane.